Bacterial Canker in Plums

2016 bacterial canker 4

Bacterial Canker – dead buds in spring time

The Curse of Bacterial Canker

2016 bacterial canker 3

Bacterial Canker – dead blossom in spring time

2016 bacterial canker 2

Bacterial Canker – Gummosis

Bacterial Canker is evil. Walking the orchard this spring, to get a feel for how the trees have fared over the cold and wet (or warm and wet in this case) winter, I noticed that a few of the plum trees in the little orchard didn’t look great. On a few the blossom had withered and turned brown, on some the leaves had also turned brown or just remained as undeveloped buds which were dry to the touch. And on one tree in particular, we had the awful sight of gummosis, a potential sign of canker. With two of the trees we’ve had no fruit in the five years they’ve been in the ground, despite being on semi-dwarf rootstock, and the leaves did something similar last year. We’ve recently joined the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) and they have a fantastic service whereby you can send samples in and they will carry out a pathogenic study for you, so you know what you’re dealing with.

2016 bacterial canker 1

A common symptom of Bacterial Canker – early buds die, later foliage looks good with the possibility of ‘shotholes’. The leaves will drop early in the year.

Three days later and the three sample we sent off came back positive for Bacterial Canker – an opportunistic canker that infects wounds or prune cuts, remaining dormant over winter in the tree, to pop up in the spring. The infection causes leaves to drop early, allowing the infection to re-enter the tree through the leaf wound, and so infecting the tree for next year. The gummosis is a sign of a few tree problems, but the fact we also had dead leaf buds and blossom pointed to Bacterial Canker. In an older tree we could cut out dead wood and treat the tree to prolong its useful life, but as these trees are so young, and main branches were infected, I decided to pull them up and dispose of them. We’ve had problems in the orchard with cherries first, and now plums, and I suspect that the ground is having a part to play with it. Since that bad winter four years ago, where we were waterlogged for several months, the stone fruit has suffered. The majority of the cherries died in that winter, some survived but succumbed to a canker of sorts in the spring and summer, and now this warm wet winter seems to have done similar to the plums. The apple trees, touch fruit wood, are looking okay, so we’ll order more local varieties to replace the plums. I’ve also read that the rootstock M116 is a good choice for wetter sites than the MM106 we have the rest of the small orchard apples on, so I’ll try and track down somewhere that sells that rootstock.

Fruit, Grass, Chickens & Walnuts

It’s one of those posts! You know, the sort of post that collects all the lost things that wouldn’t make a post in and of themselves, but I find interesting enough to want to make a note about them. So here goes!

2016 gooseberriesPropogating gooseberries – it’s easy! This is one Colin, my father-in-law taught me. If you have access to a gooseberry bush, and you’d like another, just cut a 12″ twig off and stick it in the ground! Winter is the time to do it, when everything is dormant – the two green twigs on the left are simply twigs cut from a gooseberry bush on the left, and the two more developed plants on the right are branches cut from an existing bush! The reason we did this? Well – we had a bush but the pruning regime wasn’t right for us – they branched out too close to the base, and had thrown up a lot of new stems. Doing what we’ve done here we can propogate the plants, and form them to a more open bush style, which will hopefully be easier and less painful to pick from!

2016 fruit bedThis next image shows the cleaned soil of the main fruit bed. The currants are coming along nicely and we’re going to eventually fill the larger bed with strawberries, but this year, whilst we’re still cleaning it of the random docks and nettles that were brought in with new soil, we’re using it to grow some veg. Here you can see Smiler has laid out lines for his onions, with some yet to be filled with some of last year’s garlic we still have hanging up.

2016 new grassGrass! As you know from a recent post, we’ve grassed over half of our allotment (sniff) as we’ll hopefully be without a kitchen for a good portion of the harvest season – how’s that for timing! Two weeks ago I sowed a ryegrass/clover mix, and today this happened! First thing in the morning there was nothing, and a good day of sunshine after the rain and we’ve almost an inch of growth – fantastic! We’ll be playing cricket on it in no time 😉

2016 pear blossom Pear blossom – it’s beautiful isn’t it?! What amazes me with pears is that their blossom clumps are huge in comparison to the other fruit types. My fear is that we’ll have a frost or two before they open, killing them off, which is what I think happened last year. The apples tend to come out later, but we seem to have more varieties of plums, pears and cherries that are early starters – bad move possibly, but makes it quite exciting to see if we’ll get any!

2016 chicken dirt bath 22016 chicken dirt bath 1Chickens and their lice baths. Chickens are reasonably good at keeping their lice populations down to manageable levels themselves, if given the right space. Luckily, the bare earth beneath the fruit trees is the perfect location for an impromptu dirt bath, so we sprinkle some food grade diatomaceous earth in the hollow to help the chickens with their task.

2016 walnut bud 2And finally – walnuts! These buds with the pine cone pattern will eventually form the male catkins – I have no idea what the female buds look like yet, but no doubt we’ll get some again this year. In the photograph showing ‘normal’ smooth buds, the white patches beneath the new buds is where the leaves were last year and have since fallen off and healed. I have my suspicions that the larger buds on the end might be flower buds, but we’ll have to wait and see. Now, reading up on walnut trees started to get me a bit worried – walnut trees produce a substance called juglone, which inhibits the growth of other plants, even killing them. Particularly susceptible are apple trees – yikes! Before reaching for eth chainsaw, I 2016 walnut bud 1read a bit more on the subject. Apparently the drip line is worst affected, that is any ground beneath the leaf canopy. Now, we planted Broadview, a compact cultivar, which has a 9m height growth if left unchecked, and a 6m spread, which is only 20ft or thereabouts, which is a 10ft radius around the trunk. Our closest apples trees are around 30ft from the trunk, with their roots ending up with a 10ft distance between themselves and the roots of the Walnut. So I won’t panic just yet – the MM106 apple trees might be dead by the time the walnut reaches mature size, and worst case scenario, we end up with some nice walnut wood!

2016 Patch Plan

As mentioned, there have been a few changes this year – most noticeably the shrinking of the vegetable patch, which now has multiple 10ft x 10ft beds. In truth, some of the produce we grew in the 10’x30′ beds was too much – most noticeably the onions. We never get through them! Some we do use – the squash patch in particular. So with more beds, we can give some totally over to one type of plant. I still haven’t thought it entirely through, but I imagine it will be something like this:

Plot A – Potatoes

Plot B – Aliums (shallots, white onions, red onions, leeks, garlic)

Plot C – Root veg (parsnips, beetroot, swede, kohl rabi, turnip etc) and corgettes – carrots will go on clean ground as they always suffer from carrot fly on this patch.

Plot D – Summer (butternut) and winter squash

Plot E – Pumpkins & Sweetcorn

Plot F – Brassica (brussel sprouts, summer cauliflower, winter/spring cauliflowers, spring cabbage, winter (savoy) cabbage, summer/autumn round cabbage, red cabbage, broccolli)

Plot G – Legumes (peas and beans)

Carrots will go in the raised bed again, they do well raised that 2′ off the ground to deter the carrot fly, and also in the old fruit cage, next to the currant bushes as that soil is new to carrots. I may even add extra garlic in there to help deter new flies discovering our carroty goodness!

We’ll also plant the sunflowers in that area, we need sunflowers as they’re so gorgeous and the birds love them!

You may also notice that the wild flower border we had last year, running south of the Old Oak, is no longer there. In reality, it is, but our de-teaseling last year *seems* to have done the trick as I can’t see any young teasels starting off – but we’re doing nothing with it yet until I’m sure it doesn’t need rotovating again to kill any new growth off, so some wild flowers will push through and, as long as they’re not a teasel, they’re more than welcome!

We’ve also added three new trees to the orchard – a replant of a Beeley Pippin after the last one didn’t take well, It’s in the north-east corner of the little  orchard and, judging by the buttercups there, I think it may be that the ground is slightly wetter than the rest of the orchard. Other trees don’t seem to mind it, so it may be the Beeley Pippin is a bit reluctant as a variety. We’ve also added a Vilberie – an old Normandy cider tree – to the little orchard, and the same variety on larger rootstock to the big orchard. I’m quite excited about these, and they’re one variety that has gone in after much thought.

 

Acre Field 2016 01

Spring Time Shuffle & Update

The rains have subsided, the sun shows itself and we begin to shed the winter sleep from our eyes. Well, that’s not strictly true – a fortnight ago we started digging over the allotment – I tackled the last of the fruit tree pruning in the orchard whilst Suz dug over one of the vegetable beds and cleared the old strawberry patch which had started to deteriorate, having been in the ground for five years. Last Friday I dug over another vegetable bed and the rhubarbs whilst Suz pulled the remaining parsnips, carrots and beetroot, and weeded the artichokes, most of which have survived the mild winter! Jay got stuck into the first mow of the season, and Smiler prepared the raised bed. What a day! This was all on the only sunny day of the Easter weekend, but at least it gave us an excuse to take Saturday easy.

And then yesterday – the Sunday. The Little Orchard was looking quite sorry for itself – the occupation of the quarter acre by 20 chickens had taken its toll, the mole hills had become mole holes, the grass was quite short and it just looked grubby. I started to get the yearning to move them to cleaner ground a few weeks ago, but the time wasn’t right – but yesterday it was. It was a bit of a military exercise – Smiler and I got stuck into shifting electric fences – we’d done it before together and it was fun to get outside on a decent day.

2016 spring move pilgrim geeseWe managed to move the geese from the Big Orchard to the Hay Quarter, where they will have half that quarter acre. We are only making half as much hay this year, partly down to the fact that we have too many animals and need the ground, and also because we have other projects kicking from summer through to harvest that will soak time up. We are finally, hopefully, extending the kitchen, so we can get more than two people in it at a time, and will no longer have to chop apples up outside, press them on the dining table and transfer them to the kitchen to bottle! Which brings me to the other reason harvest time will be busy – apples! I expect a larger crop this year, and it would be good to give more attention to that side of things properly, without shoe-horning it in between hay making and vegetable growing. Again, with the kitchen being dismantled and the apple trees taking over, we have decided to grow only one third of the vegetables we normally do, as we won’t have anywhere to really prep or cook it this summer. We can, however, freeze a lot and eat much of it in salads, but next year we can begin again with renewed vigour, knowing we’ll have a kitchen table for the first time ever! As a plus point, moving the geese to the hay quarter will also give it    some much needed fertiliser – once the hay has been cut later in the year we’ll move them to the other half I imagine, or give them free roaming over the whole quarter acre.

2016 spring move light sussex bantamsWith the geese out of the Big Orchard, we moved the majority of the chickens in, as the geese hadn’t made much of a mess of the quatrer acre. We separated the chickens, the Light Sussex bantams were all put together, with William the Cock and his ladies having their own fenced off area. I suspect it was a bit of a relief for William – there were far too many ladies for him to control, and anarchy had reigned, with egg-eating having begun. We suspected the rescue Warrens had started it, as some are laying soft shells, but it had spread. So now he can control his five ladies, and they’re not competing for space with the huge hens.

2016 spring move june suzColin the Light Sussex cock was separated and placed with the four Light Sussex hens, and they have all moved down to the Chicken Paddock at the back of the house where we can keep an eye on them. They’re the potential parents of the next generation, so we’ll start collecting their eggs for incubation in two weeks, once he’s had time to do his business! We also put Jackie the possible-Light-Sussex-but-not-quite-sure rescue in with them, as the other hybrids were pecking her!

2016 spring move ducksThe ducks have all been annexed in the Banty Paddock, which has weld mesh fencing, to keep them contained! Once the vegetables in the allotment have grown to a duck-proof size, we can let them in there to clear slugs and snails, but at the moment I just don’t trust them!

2016 spring move hybridsAnd that left the remaining big hybrid hens – a motley crew if ever there was one! They are also in the Big Orchard, next to the bantams, so they’ll have some decent shade in the summer under the fruit trees.

As far as the egg-eating goes, the shuffle around seems to have helped somewhat – they’re in a new place so any egg-snaffling through boredom has been nobbled. And we’ve also trialled a roll away nest box in one of the Omlet Cubes, which seems to have worked. It was a simple affair, produced as an insert for the Chick Box. Some of the hens took to it straight away, but as one fills the double nest box of the Cube, it’s meant a queue from some ladies, or some just drop their egg down the side as they try and squeeze in. To help matters we’ve ordered two Chick Boxes, complete with the roll away nest box inserts, and we’ll place one in each of the Cubes. I think we can fit two in, but the floor space would suffer, so we’ll see how we go. I could always make a nest box holder that sits separately to the Cubes, if needed.

And that’s where we’re at! This morning we let them all out, and June came over from the farm next door to let us know they’d tried our cider and were still alive, which is a good thing, I think!

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Cider Making – The Second Batch

2015 Second Cider MakingMore cider making! Today I made the second batch of cider – just enough for one gallon demijohn this time, and three pints of apple juice left over for drinking neat. The apples were a mix of Dabinet (cider), Rosemary Russet and a random cooker begged from Farmer John next door. The specific gravity came out at 1052, so a potential alchohol level of around 6.3%. As I sadly failed last time to intercept the fermentation in time to bottle condition the cider before the cider turned dry, I’m hoping the weather turns cold enough for me to have a bash this time. However, with doors still open as it’s too warm inside, and trundling around in a t-shirt as it’s around 14 Celsius outside, I fear this batch will also ferment too quickly. Ah well – it’ll be interesting to taste the difference between two ciders this year!

Year 2 – Cider Making

2015 Cider Making 1What a gorgeous morning to start cider making (hard cider to our friends in the US)! I’d booked the scratter and press from Melbourne Area Transition a few weeks ago, giving us time to pick the apples that were ready to crush, and leave them outside for three weeks to ‘sweat’ – if the weather had been wetter then we’d been advised to move them under cover as heat and wet can spoil them.

2015 Cider Making 2The press was a 20 litre cross beam press – a bit larger than our 5 litre spindle press, which really isn’t useful for any quantity of cider, but probably more suited for crushing soft fruits for juice.

2015 Cider Making 4The scratter could take around six whole average-sized apples in one go, or you could fill the hopper with cut apples. I chose the first method as it was easier with only one person, but it was a doddle!

2015 Cider Making 3The apples we used were roughly 60% dessert, 30% culinary and 10% cider. I had grand ideas of a ‘mix’ of certain types, but when it came down to it I took what we could get – around a third came from our lovely neighbours at number 1, the rest we scrounged from our trees – there were definitely Warner’s King, Elton Beauty and Catshead – the rest I really can’t remember, or I don’t know – hopefully next year I’ll be more organised!

2015 Cider Making 5The cider making method was simple – apples began in the green cart, a half bucket loaded into the white bucket, hosed down, washed around and inspected by Penny, who would have jumped in the bucket if there had been the slightest chance she’d fit! Then six at a time were dropped in to the scratter and munched into tiny pieces. It took about one full washing bucket to fill the smaller 2 gallon bucket which sat under the scratter. Two of the 2 gallon buckets of pomace filled the 20 litre press (don’t you love mixing imperial with metric?), so basically 2015 Cider Making 6two stints on the scratter for every stint on the press, and the press gave between 4 and 5 litres per pressing (that’s the white pouring jug under the press). The pomace left over after pressing didn’t feel as dry as that from the spindle press last year, but the pieces of apple seemed a bit chunkier than last year, so maybe that had something to do with it? Or maybe because we’d let the apples sweat some of their juice out – who knows!

Anyway – it took me about 6 presses to fill my 7 gallon fermentation bin, and about three hours in total, maybe a bit more. Assuming it works, that’s around 55 pints (assume one lost to keeving later into another vessel) – not bad for three hours’ (enjoyable) work! Last year was heart-breakingly slow, with our tiny press, and I expected this year to feel as bad – in terms of the effort-to-produce ratio.

2015 Cider Making 7But this cider making experience was a whole different ball game! To see the juice pouring from the press was a beautiful sight – and makes me realise that we need at least a 40 litre press. We really do need to decide in which direction to take this, once we have some experience under our belt? Do we stay as hobbiests, making our own product for friends and family to enjoy, or do we expand the idea to create a mini business that can self-fund? We’ll have plenty of apples to play with, there’s no doubting that! Plenty of time to worry about that, and for now it’s great that people like Melbourne Transition rent out kit that can suit a serious hobbiest.

A quick reading of the Specific Gravity showed 1.046, at a room temperature of around 19 degrees, which is fine. Again, as last year, I’ve decided not to sulphite, to rid the juice of wild yeast. That would mean adding a known yeast back into the cider, but I quite like the idea of seeing if natural yeast, present in the air and on the apple and pressing equipment, can do the job for us. Health-wise – sulphites can cause problems with people suffering from asthma, or people with allergies to sulphites themselves.

2015 Cider Making 8As it was, Jay and Smiler came back from school just as I’d finished – impeccable timing! Seeing the press, the dived right in and pressed out another 4 litres of apple juice from the Forfar tree – a light and slightly acidic juice, but then we may have been a bit early picking them. It only seems fair to press something they can also enjoy.

Despite that being the end of our first cider making day, we’re not done yet – we have some later maturing varieties on the trees still, so hopefully we’ll do another pressing come late November, early December 🙂

First Walnut!

2015 First Broadview WalnutCrikey! It’s been almost four years since we planted our Broadview Walnut, in December 2011, and today it gave us our first walnut!! I’ve been watching it all summer, and couldn’t see anything – nor did I expect to. But today, whilst we were cleaning the animals, Penny sat under the walnut tree, chewing something around her mouth. As ever, when we’re not sure what she’s tucking in to, Suz told her to spit it out, and promptly doing so, there lay our first walnut at our feet! A closer inspection of the tree showed a burst nut pod, which must have only recently dropped the nut, as we’d mowed under the tree the weekend before!

Fantastic! So this proves you don’t have to wait 20-odd years to see a walnut 😀

Appelcake (Dutch Apple Cake)

Again, another recipe for the apple season, and this one is gorgeous – moist and appley, but firm with it – something to really sink your teeth in to, cosied up around the fire. Jay made this Appelcake for us, and it’s definitely a firm family favourite now!2015 Apple Cake

3 medium cooking apples – peeled and cut into slices
fruit sugar – 1 1/2 cups + 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2/3 cup of butter
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 cups of plain flour

In a bowl combine the apples, tablespoon of fruit sugar and cinammon. Cover, allow to stand for an hour.

In another bowl whisk the butter and 1 1/2 cups of fruit sugar. Add eggs, one at a time (beat each one in). Add vanilla. Gradually add flour to this mixture and beat until smooth.

Transfer to a greased loaf pan – better if lined with greaseproof paper. Push the apple slices into the mixture – vertically if possible.

Based at 140o fan oven, for 1 1/2 hours or until golden brown and a knife comes out clean when inserted.

Cool on a wire rack.

Apples Picked and Ready to Go!

2015 ApplesOur first two batches of apples, ready for cider making! The barrow in the foreground is two thirds dessert (eaters) apples from our lovely neighbours at No.1 – types unknown (apples – not neighbours!), and one third culinary (cookers) from our orchard – type I really should remember but I don’t!

The trolley behind is using Tremlett’s Bitter, Slack Ma Girdle and a cooker, again, not entirely sure which. It should have been Catshead, and next year it will be, but we ate them all as they fell! Talk about organised 😀

We’ll leave them outside for three weeks to “sweat” – to give the starch a chance to turn to sugar. We’ll do an iodine test then, to make sure all is ticketyboo, and then hopefully get on with it!

Plum Wine Stage 2

2015 Plum Wine 1

Plum juice after adding sugar, lemon juice and yeast

So here we are, four days after first adding our plums to the plastic barrel and adding water to what will become our plum wine. We’ve stirred them twice a day (well  stirred in the morning and given the barrel a good shake in the evening), and today it’s time for these steps:

6. Add the sugar and stir vigorously to dissolve.
7. Add lemon juice and the packet of wine yeast and put the lid on.
8. Store somewhere warm. After a few hours you’ll notice something starting to happen… there’ll be a froth on the surface as the yeast starts to ferment, turning the sugar into alcohol. Stir the contents twice a day.
Yeast close-up

Yeast close-up

 

Four kilos of demerara sugar went into this barrel, three teaspoons of lemon juice, and the sachet of wine yeast. Firstly I stirred the sugar in like crazy – demerara being a bit chunky. Then the lemon juice and yeast – it says don’t bother stirring these in, but as we have so many lumpy plums still floating on top, I decided to stir gently. The floating lumpy bits are the plums that were still slightly unripe I’m guessing – there weren’t many, but enough to coat the surface in a layer of plum.

Place somewhere warm

Place somewhere warm

Once the lid’s back on tight, the whole thing was lifted on to the work surface above the boiler (somewhere warm) to start its business. It’ll stay there, much to the chagrin of Suz, in the middle of the kitchen, for five days, until it’s ready to siphon off into demijohns.